Don’t know what you think? Try writing a letter.

images (1)girl thinking

“I don’t know what I think until I see what I write.”  Those are the words of Flannery O’Connor, the American writer and essayist. As backwards as this idea might seem, I feel exactly the same way each morning when I sit down to write my first letter of the day.


There I am with my first cup of coffee and the letter I plan to answer. My mind is still rather blank after a good night’s sleep. The day hasn’t yet had its chance to invade my thoughts, but, as I read through my friend’s letter, ideas begin to flow.  That letter I’m answering may tell me a story of love, report a discovery, or describe a challenge, and reading of such things will then conjure up my own similar experiences – or lack of them – and such reflections will start my mental ball rolling.

Once my thoughts are activated, it’s not long before my creativity kicks in and my letter response is off and running.  Where it ends up is anyone’s guess!


Sark, in her book “Succulent Wild Woman” writes, “A story can travel without you and inspire many.  The tiniest story in your life can deeply touch another.  You cannot know the effect your story might have.”

If you keep this idea in mind when you write letters, your writing will become more than a simple free-time activity:  It will become a way you can make this world a better place just by being you and sharing the best parts of yourself – your ideas, enthusiasm, faith, hope, compassion, lessons learned, and things loved.


Sark also says, “Creativity thrives in solitude – not isolation.  As creative women we need community.”  I suggest women aren’t the only ones who need community either.  Everyone needs community.

No man is an island.  Letter writing is a wonderful activity because though we may be enjoying the peaceful, luscious solitude of our home or the pleasure of our own table in a crowded coffee shop we’re alone in one way, but we’re not entirely alone.  We have the companionship of our letter friend.

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My best intellectual and/or creative conversations seldom happen while chatting with friends in person, even though I’m lucky to have many intelligent, creative friends.  Maybe it’s just me, but when I get together with friends it’s more like a party, and conversations tend to stay light and festive.

In-person friends are forever jumping into each other’s thoughts with asides and comments.  The topic is constantly changing.  It’s great fun, but entirely different from conversations in letters.  In letters there are no interruptions and the tone often becomes more serious and thoughtful.


In writing a letter, one has the chance to form all thoughts slowly and carefully, getting them all out before a word is written in reply. Therefore these written thoughts have a chance to develop more completely.  By the same token, our letter friend has plenty of time to digest and reflect upon our words before responding to them.

Modern life and modern communication does not encourage these slow, thoughtful exchanges, and this is a real shame, for most people don’t even know what they’re missing.  As with so many things, one must experience good letter conversations in order to understand how they can enrich our lives.


If you are a thoughtful person who enjoys shared reflection, I would think you’d love letters and letter writing, for, with the right correspondents conversations will occur that add depth to your intellectual life.  Good letters tell stories.  They describe comings and goings, explore feelings, and capture and preserve personal essence.

Lord Byron

Letter writing helps us reflect upon and examine our stories and the stories of others, something busy modern life does not encourage us to do.  Reflection is good.  Shared reflection is even better.  It’s important.  Lord Byron wrote, “A life without reflection is a sad affair.”  I agree.  Don’t you?

So reflect upon your story, then write  lots of letters sharing your most outstanding personal tidbits.  You will tingle with awareness and eagerly await letter responses from your pen friends.  You will feel like a real writer – and for good reason.  You will be one!

“A story is a medicine that greases and hoists the pulleys, shows us the way out, down, in and around, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, doors which lead us to our own knowing.”

                                                    Clarissa Pinkola Estes                                          American poet, post-trauma specialist                                               and Jungian psychoanalyst

The Letter Writing Ritual


What is a ritual?  The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines ritual as an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.  Wikipedia tells us the term ritual is sometimes used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety.

Well, I find letter writing in general  to be a great anxiety neutralizer because as I step off the fast track, sit myself down, reflect on my life situation and share that reflection with a friend in a slow careful manner, I become more calm and at peace.  And in this calm thoughtful state it’s easier to focus on the positive, fighting off the negative.  Rushing destroys grace, but mindful relaxation cultivates grace and when I’m in this ‘state of grace’ life seems more manageable and more beautiful too.


 But with all there is to do how do we make time for writing letters?  The answer is simple.  We decide to make letter writing a priority and we create a letter writing ritual.  After all, life is a series of choices and we are the creators of our life, the ones who make those choices.  Though modern life can easily fill up our day with a swirl of “to do’s” we have the power to say STOP if we choose to use that power.

But what exactly is a letter writing ritual?

A letter writing ritual is the carefully planned approach we create in regard to the who, what, when, where  and how that’s involved in our letter writing process.

When we pay close attention to all the details of our ritual, making these details orderly and pleasing to our sensibilities, we then elevate our letter writing activity into the realm of a peak aesthetic experience.  So let’s talk about how one would create such a ritual.



In order to get right down to writing when the time comes it helps to know just who will be getting the next letter.  Having a list of letter recipients in place helps with this matter, and only you know who should be on your list.  As you receive letters you can certainly enter the names of these letter friends  – and favorite friends might be put on a priority response list.   But you might also like to add the names of others – your children, elderly friends and relations – anyone you care about, people who may or may not write back to you.  Your list could include the names of people who need a get well letter or birthday letter. Think through all the people you know.

You can begin a new correspondence by writing a first letter to someone you know and like asking lots of questions so they have reason to write back to you.  Be creative.  There might be people you know who need a little encouragement, deserve a little praise.  Write to children.  Everyone loves to get a personal letter.   Give a little creative thought to the matter and design a system that will help you know just who is to get your next letter automatically.  This systematic list created by you will  truly make it easier to get right down to writing when you finally have the time to write.

I like to keep a special list containing the names of  people who send me a Christmas card each year.  I might not have the time in busy December to send all these people a card with a personal letter inside, but if their names are on my list I will get around to them sooner or later.  Lists are helpful.



What kind of stationery do you like to use?  Maybe you always send greeting cards with letters inside those cards.  Maybe you use monogrammed stationery.  You might design your own papers.  Perhaps you create photo note cards.  There are so many wonderful types of stationery for our letters.  If you’re like me you enjoy using all sorts of materials.  In order not to spend a lot of time deciding just what papers to use each time you write it is helpful to have these choices organized in some way.  Maybe the decision is easy for you because you always use exactly the same light blue paper with dark blue ink, but if you’re like me, you’ll need to decide in advance what approach you’ll take in using your materials. It’s fun to take stock of the possibilities and design your own approach for then when it’s time to write a letter you’ll go directly to the paper, postage stamps, sealing wax and inks without time spent deliberating the choices.



The Bible says there’s a time for all things under heaven, but unless we set appointments for these things they often get pushed back, pushed in, and sometimes pushed right out of the picture.  In order to guarantee regular letter writing it helps to have a  set time each day, or at least each week.  Just as we brush our teeth each morning or cut the grass each Saturday, having an appointment set with pen and paper makes letter writing happen.

I write one letter first thing every morning as I enjoy that first cup of coffee.  I rise early to be sure I am undisturbed. Then later in the afternoon when I’m ready for a break, I know it’s time once again for a little letter writing.

Some people with full time jobs enjoy writing their letters after dinner when their day is winding down. It doesn’t matter when we write, but it does matter that we have a regular time for writing.  Without a set time established other tasks will try, and usually succeed, in squeezing themselves into the picture as they squeeze  your letter writing  out the picture.



I think it’s important to write our letters in a pleasing location.  I can’t imagine enjoying my letter writing time as much as I do if I were sitting before a sink full of dirty dishes or in a room that’s messy. In order to encourage peaceful uplifting thoughts a peaceful uplifting setting usually works best – at least this is true for me.


My morning letter writing time during warm months is enjoyed on my porch for it’s here I have a view of nature in all it’s glory.  I find trees, birds, green grass and skies fine companions for letter writing. They keep my thoughts fixed to the lovelier things in life.


But when the weather turns cold  writing  letters in my library with a fire burning in the fireplace feels cozy and comforting.  My good friend  Bruce  always lit a beeswax candle at the start of his letter writing.  He also sat before a window so he could focus on the sky. He would describe its beauty at the start of each of his letters.   Putting yourself in a place that soothes the savage beast in you (and we all have those little beasties unnerving us)  will undoubtedly make your letter writing time more pleasurable.



Why do we write letters?  Well, as we reach out to others we’re reaching into ourselves.  Flannery O’Connor, the Irish novelist, said she doesn’t know what she thinks till she sees what she writes. Writing is like that.  It helps us think.  Until we sit ourselves down in quietude and reflect a lot gets past us.  Most of my creative ideas occur to me while I’m writing.  As I share my enthusiasm for projects, appreciation for favorite things, as I react to my friend’s enthusiasm and appreciations, I feel energized.  But writing also helps us relax.  Writing helps us share.  Writing exercises our intellect.  It is art.  It can become a ministry as we show that we care about others.


To write any  letter is a complete treat, a treat for the writer and a treat for the lucky recipient.  But to have a  letter writing ritual in place not only safe guards our letter writing time making it automatic, but it also makes the process richer and more satisfying because  all the details are worked out in advance and designed exactly the way we like them.  Paying close attention to these details involved in letter writing truly elevates our activity to the level of a peak aesthetic experience.

Yes it does!